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In the Dust
by Joseph Young

art by Dave Clapper
“Jesus it’s going to rain hard. Look at all of that lightning.”

Out in the corn, a devil rubbed his hands. As a bolt threw itself from a crack in the clouds, fire sprouted from between the devil’s palms, jumping into the dry stalks.

“That’s not lightning, George, that’s God.”

George laughed. Because the Broach boys had slashed the tires of his truck for tipping the sheriff off to their meth lab, he hadn’t been able to get to town and refill his mother’s prescription. She’d been seeing God in the dust motes ever since.

The devil leaned close to the blaze he’d set and blew, the black tongue flickering between the old stubs of his teeth. His lungs rattled dangerously and his flaking scalp turned red, but the heat of his breath fanned the fire to crimson threads.

“Get me some water!” George’s mother said, sucking on her teeth. “I’m going half blind from thirst.”

“I could wheel you into the yard,” he answered, “And you could open your mouth to the storm.”

She took up her empty cup and hurled it across the room, though it bounced harmlessly from his shoulder. He picked it up from the dirty floor and went to the kitchen sink.

By now, the center of the field blazed wildly, and in the midst of the bluish smoke, the devil whirled, hooves kicking up soil and the nests of wasps. The first knobs of rain were falling, but the fire was too well lit to be doused now.

George’s mother snatched the cup from her son’s hand, but before she swallowed, she looked into the reflection of the water. “I see things,” she said. “Horses eating each other in their stalls.”

George fluttered his hand in her direction. “Oh, Mother. You’ve been reading Julius Caesar.”

“Nevertheless,” she said.

The devil stopped his dancing long enough to peer through the burning stalks at the farm house. By now, he’d thought, the man and his mother would be out on their porch, pointing hopelessly into the fire. But the house and its empty windows simply sat blinking at the gathering wedges of storm. “What in Hell?” he wondered.

George laid out a hand of gin rummy. His mother watched the cards fall from his fingers with ecstatic eyes, caught in blue visions of waltzing diamonds. “It’s beatific,” she whispered, scratching at the hem of her stockings.

“Suit your cards, Mom. And remember that spades are shaped like the leaves of trees.”

In the rain and falling ash of the corn field, the devil rolled, the aches of arthritis in his knees, the smell of copper in his trembling nose.

All content in SmokeLong Quarterly copyright 2003-2014 by its authors.

Joseph Young lives in Baltimore, MD. His work has appeared in a variety of online and print magazines. Please visit him at

Read the interview.
Issue Nine (June 15, 2005): Irvin Hammers a Cat House by Mike Young «» In the Dust by Joseph Young «» Pet Snail by Sam Vaknin «» Living in Sin by Stephen Ausherman «» China by Michelle Garren Flye «» In Too Deep by Kay Sexton «» How We Can Be Saved by Max Ruback «» Eros by Henry Stanton «» Saft by Jai Clare «» The Woman Who Sold Her Flute to Buy a Cabbage by Maggie Shearon «» Bird Tree by Lesley C. Weston «» Pornography by Steve Almond «» Brisket by Stuart Dybek «» A Deep Desire for Blue by Alexandra Fox «» The Names of Things by Cami Park «» Interviews: Mike Young «» Joseph Young «» Sam Vaknin «» Stephen Ausherman «» Michelle Garren Flye «» Kay Sexton «» Max Ruback «» Henry Stanton «» Jai Clare «» Maggie Shearon «» Lesley C. Weston «» Steve Almond «» Stuart Dybek «» Alexandra Fox «» Cami Park «» Cover Art "Groom Left Waiting at the Altar" by Marty D. Ison «» Letter From the Editor
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